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can we meet again, for the first time?

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i.

The airport is bustling like an ant hill – with movements and noises and businesses of the little people, frantically going from one spot to another, never stopping in their hurried occupancies to pay attention to what is going on around them. With the exception of three businessmen, discussing their newest investment while walking in the long, light, white-tiled hall, their target being the first-class lounge.

Not even the prospect of perhaps buying Amazon stocks overcomes, as exciting as it is, the need for them to just shut up and stare as a certain long-legged, blonde, blue-eyed (or that's what they imagine – she's shielding her eyes by brand-name sunglasses) epitome of beauty. Her hair is straightened and cascades down her back and she's wearing an extremely fitted black dress suit, with a snow-white blouse underneath, the two top buttons nonchalantly undone. As she passes them, the heels of her black stilettos producing silent claps and the wheels of her hand-luggage squeezing slightly as she lugs her elegant carry-on suitcase behind – even that sounds gracious, coming from her – the three men can't help but freeze in the middle of their discussion, whether Amazon really is the right way to go.

She allows herself a slight smirk when she's already back to back with them, and she hears a not-so-subtle exclamation from one of their mouths: "Wow, she was fucking hot!" She amuses herself for a little while with trying to guess which one of the impeccably courteous gentlemen couldn't pass up on the remark – perhaps the slightly chubby one? Or the one that's already showing signs of balding? But the three men are quickly forgotten when she steps out of the airport, collects her checked baggage and puts her purse on it – she pushes that one in front of her, with her smaller suitcase still behind her, she's done this millions of times – and steps outside of the airport, her lungs filling with the smoggy joke that is Madrid's fresh air.

She likes the anonymity of airports, and she likes to collect tiny little compliments muttered by strangers, because there, in an anonymous horde of people traveling towards their dreams and aspirations, they don't mean anything. But now, her amusing distraction is over, and she stops swaying as she walks, calls herself a taxi in a muffeld voice, and lifts up her sunglasses – it's raining in Madrid, who would've thought, and the sky is gray and gloomy – revealing her striking green eyes. It is time to get to what she came for.

Carla Rosón Caleruega is coming home.





ii.

It isn't that she disliked California while she lived there and completed her M.B.A. at UCLA – quite the opposite, actually. Sunny beaches, friendly people – way too open and with an annoying tendency to overshare, in her opinion, but still nice – and every designer shop she could wish for. But Carla's home is in Madrid, and she has never, okay, maybe for one split-second in her darkest moments, but other than that, never thought about actually moving somewhere else, for good. Her university experience in America was great – but the U.S., for Carla, are exactly that – a place to go to college at. Not a place for her to live in.

Besides her nostalgic, emotional attachment to her hometown, despite all of the trauma she had experienced there, Carla has an agenda in Madrid: that being, showing her chauvinistic, authoritarian father what she's fucking made of and taking full control over the wineries.

Carla hopes that during the first meeting with the board, two days after she's settled in her hotel room – she's not staying with her parents, not in a million years – where she's supposed to officially take over the company as its rightful CEO, and get her executive powers in their full range back from Valerio Montesinos, who has shown an impeccable talent for business and driving the board of elderly partners crazy – well, she hopes that her face doesn't show a trace of the petrification that she is feeling on the inside. In the conference room, the gazes of twelve gray-haired, experienced men on her, one of them being her father with whom she refuses to speak unless it is absolutely necessary, she feels a freezing anxiety spill all over her body and limbs.

Luckily, Valerio is standing behind her, at the head of the table, and Yeray, as the main investor, is also in one of the chairs, inbetween two sixty-year-olds. Carla breathes in, speaks in her loud, clear voice, Valerio's gaze in her back giving her the confidence she needs, goes over her presentation for her innovative ideas, responds to some questions that are supposed to make her lose her balance, but she knows better – and then, they sign the paperwork. And they're done. Carla, in her gray, much more conservative dress suit, sighs with relief as the partners of her firm flow out of the door and she sits down into one of the ugly, plasticky chairs – she needs to speak to someone about redesigning their offices, because this is simply a disgrace – with the knowledge that she is firmly in control.

"See? It wasn't that bad, marquesita. I told you, you didn't have to stress so much."

She turns around with a grin. Maybe Valerio's fastion style has evolved a little – instead of a tracksuit, he's wearing an actual suit now, albeit purple – but other than that, he still has the same malicious smirk and the same sassy spark in his eyes as five years ago.

"You haven't changed at all, Valerio," she grins, but she isn't trying to be mean – if something, she likes that she has a bit of certainty, that something or someone about the city she grew up in, will always stay the same as it was, and she will always be able to come back. With her teenage life being an emotional turmoil, all Carla wants is a little stability.

He grins. "You neither, Marquesita. Or, Marquesa, now." He ignores her annoyed scoff. "Wanna go for a drink?"

"It's noon, Valerio," she objects, shoving her flashcards into her purse. 

"Maybe you have changed a little," he laughs, provocatively. "I don't remember you being so stuck-up."


 

iii.

Carla, as expected, can never let herself lose a challenge, so she sits down at the bar in her hotel – she booked that one specifically because it's close to the headquarters – ten minutes later, clinking her glass of tequila with Valerio. "To our success."

"To our success," he agrees with a nod and takes a sip. But Carla knows that he's not there to discuss business with her – and he doesn't leave her wondering for long. "So, how is Lu?" he intriques, somewhat shyly, compared to his normal self-confidence.

Carla smiles reservedly at his question. "New York and Los Angeles are further from each other than Oslo and Madrid," she lectures him, because she knows that Valerio thinks that she and Lu (and Nadia) were all practically flatmates. Yes, they have seen each other, but only twice during the five years, once in New York (because Carla had to go on  a trip to New York, it's New York, for god's sake), once in Las Vegas. But none of those occasions were enough to reinstate their once incredibly-close friendship, even though they still like each other. It's just that Lu really, really wants to move on, and Madrid symbolizes everything that she would gladly leave behind.

"She's doing well," Carla refracts, noticing Valerio's disappointed gaze. "She wants to settle in America for good." She takes a sip from her glass so that she doesn't have to see the despair on his face after she's broken the news.

"But she's happy, right?" Valerio asks, and it sounds way more cheerful than Carla would've expected, so she can look at him. His face doesn't seem gloomy, even though there is a hint of sadness and need – but mostly, it radiates hope.

"Yeah. She's really happy," she assures him, leaving out the fact that Lu has broken up with her ex-fiancé a month ago and is now in an all-men-should-be-castrated phase. He cheated on her. "She's doing really well in med school."

"I'm glad," Valerio sighs out happily, and Carla wishes to have the same ability to move on and wish the best to people who are a part of her past, without a selfish desire to drag them right back into it. 

"So, what's new here?" she intriques, tapping with her neatly manicured nude nails on her refilled glass, because after all, Carla might have a lot of strengths, but patience isn't one of them. Self-control, yes; subtlety, yes; but not patience. That's why she gets things done.

Valerio gives out a muffled laugh, as if he knew who exactly she is asking about – okay, maybe she wasn't exactly subtle or controlled this time – and, as if to torture her, starts naming all of her high-school classmates in the reverse order that she'd care for. "Guzmán obviously took over their family company, and somehow, he managed to pull it out of the horse shit." Carla nods. "Rebeka is studying her second college-" Carla rolls her eyes, she couldn't care less, "because she was in business school before, but she realized she really wanted to be a vet." Carla lifts up her eyebrow in slight surprise, not because she cares, but because she's never thought of that. "Ander's fine from cancer, completely, he works in a travel agency, kinda boring. Omar and him didn't last long after high school, but they still kind of talk. Omar has a new boyfriend, he met him during a shift at the bar when he puked over the counter. He's my kind of guy. You'll like him, I'll introduce you sometime," he grins, correctly analyzing Carla's little frown. "Caye works in a studio for a fashion designer whose name I forgot, but allegedly, she's pretty well-known."

Carla expects him to continue, but as Valerio takes a sip of his tequila and then relaxedly leans back, she knows that she's lost this fight. His expectant, smug gaze drives her insane, and she hates to lose, but-

"What about Samuel?" she asks quietly. The sound of his name from her own lips is enough to make her nervous. She hasn't said it in so long. Just thinking of where Samuel might be – and with whom – her torturous guesses, the scenarios she's been making up in her head – she needs to know the answer. Now. Even if it means submitting a little of her dignity.

Valerio clicks his lips in satisfaction, because he managed to get what he wanted, and casually leans onto his elbow on the bar. "Samuel is in his last year of architecture. He's doing well."

Carla sighs. Well. What a vague statement. Well could mean barely scraping by, or already with prospective job offers. Partying every night as a part of the college lifestyle, or returning every day to a shared apartment, where he lives with his girlfriend. Maybe a dog. Does Samuel like dogs? It always staggers her how little she knows about him. She still kind of hopes that he prefers cats, just like her.

As Carla said, she wishes she would possess the ability to let go and move on, but she doesn't. She's incredibly stubborn. That's why she's back in Madrid, proving herself to her father and his board of old men that she has no interest in; that's why she's back in Madrid, thinking about her highschool ex.

Not even an ex boyfriend. An ex something. Friend with benefits? No, they were never friends. Enemy with benefits? No, they weren't that, either, or they were, but only at the start.

An ex lover.

Because if Carla is sure about something, it is that she has never loved anyone the same way she's loved Samuel García. She was seventeen, and she was stupid, but she gave up her whole life for him. Of course, that was a part of their whole problem – but she has never, not since then, felt the same kind of connection with someone. She's had boyfriends, friends with benefits, one-night stands – but in none of her affairs, short-lived or slightly longer, had she felt the same kind of feeling that she'd felt with Samuel.

That she would do anything for him. (Even if it meant being apart.)

Of course, she did do something that would probably fall under anything – the insane acts only done out of the deepest captivation, or, as in her case, despair – for Polo, but that was loyalty. Besides, she had a pretty good motive.

With Samuel, it was love.

"He's single," Valerio utters casually, but he winks at her when their gazes meet again, and she knows that he is aware how not-casual that is for her. "Or, at least that's what his facebook says."

Even though nobody updates their facebook profiles anymore, at least it's a start.





iv.

Carla still isn't sure what to do with the information. She gets back to her hotel room at four in the afternoon, drops onto her bed and stalks Samuel's social media. It is true that he hasn't posted anything about a girlfriend on instagram – she follows him there – but that's not exactly telling, because he rarely posts anything. His last pictre is from eight months ago, and it's his silhouette against a dark sea, Guzmán tagged as the photographer. That doesn't exactly give her much information, apart from the obvious, that he stayed in touch with Guzmán after high school.

She hasn't had the idea to check his facebook, though, not until Valerio mentioned it, and she finds it endearing, in a strange way, that he actually still uses it. Apart from an occassional photo with a variation of a few people from the same group, probably his friends from college, he only shares articles on architecture and those raising awareness videos about global crises, so that doesn't help her much, either.

Carla sighs and thinks about how she should get in touch with him – text him over one of the apps, find out where he lives and show up in front of his door (she dismisses that straight ahead), call him? She doesn't really like to do things over text, it's easy to get ignored, and she doesn't want that, so she decides for the voice call option – when she realizes that she doesn't have his phone number.

It's stupid, really, that she hasn't thought of that, but she knows that he's changed his number because during one stupid, drunken night with her friends at a sketchy bar in downtown L.A. during her second year of college, she tried calling his old one, and what she got in response to her excessive alcohol consumption was a mechanic voice of a woman, telling her that this number doesn't exist. In retrospect, Carla is glad that that happened, but right now, she has a problem.

So she calls Valerio mere hours after they've parted ways, and she can vividly imagine the wide, teasing smile on his face, when he dictates her the numerals that she writes down on the empty side of one of her flashcards. "Good luck," the grin is audible in his voice. "And I'm expecting a call about how it went."

She shakes out her head at the way he says it, as if he had some sort of right to know about her life, and she types in the numbers into her phone, but before she presses the little phone icon, something stops her.

Carla realizes that she's scared, about ten times more than she was that morning, when she stood in front of a dozen men in a conference room. She gets up from the armchair that she was comfortably settled in, one of her knees bent up to her face, and instead of sitting, she starts pacing around her impersonally creme-coloured room in fast, anxious little steps. Really, maybe the whole thing is stupid. It's been five years, for fuck's sake, and Samuel has surely had much bigger problems than thinking about their highschool half-relationship and what could've been. He's also surely had a handful of girlfriends, and maybe right now, he's mourning a break up with someone else, and Carla is the last thing on his mind. Maybe he's-

Her phone starts vibrating in her hand – an unknown number – and Carla jumps up at the unexpected movement. She exhales to calm herself down and slides over the screen with the pad of her thumb swiftly, quite happy for the distraction of a – most likely – business call, that delays her unpredictable personal one with Samuel.

"Carla?"

She almost drops her phone on the ground when she hears the voice on the other side. Of course, it's distorted because it travels from the other side to a satellite and then back to her, but Carla would recognize this voice even if he'd inhaled two megatonnnes of helium before calling her.

"Yes," she answers, surprisingly firmly, considering how her knees started trembling. She doesn't say his name, because she thinks that it's obvious that she knows who's calling, but after a few seconds of silence on both sides, she's about to let it roll off her tongue, with each of its delicate curves. Samuel.

He beats her to it, though. "It's Samuel. I heard that you were in Madrid."

She almost laughs when he announces himself – as if she needed that. "I know," she says, sort of tenderly. "And yeah. I am."

"Do you – do you wanna catch up?" It sounds so inappropriate coming from him, and he probably knows it, too, judging by the sound of his voice. After five years, when their sole form of comunication was an occasional like on an instagram photo or exactly one conversation over text at the beginning of the period, it sounds too casual coming from his mouth. Let alone the fact that they never exactly had a casual relationship.

No. Things were always too complicated between them.

"I'd like that," Carla answers carefully, not knowing what to do with her newly acclaimed liberty. Their newly acclaimed liberty. They can have a relationship as casual as they'd like – romantic or not – with no murders to solve and no psychopathic fathers to be protected from. Carla realizes, with a gulp, that Samuel still doesn't know why she'd acted so horribly distant towards him during her last high school year, and perhaps still thinks that it was because she was mad at him. Mad at him. How ridiculous – if Carla is mad at someone now, it's at herself.

"So, do you have time tomorrow?" he asks. It's Wednesday, which makes tomorrow Thursday, and Carla feels kind of privileged that he's dedicating a weekday to her. As if he didn't have better things to do, study, work, meet with other people. Maybe he doesn't – but even the slightest possibility of him cancelling plans for her makes Carla's mouth involuntarily curl up.

"I have all the time in the world," she responds, because it is true – she'll only be officially taking over the company with the first day of the next calendar month, so she can do pretty much whatever she wants with the remaining ten days of March. She almost added for you after her declaration, but she stopped herself. It sounded way too cringey. Besides, she doesn't really know where they stand.

"Great. Can we do lunch?" he asks, and Carla realizes that if something, he's fitting her into a tightly packed schedule. "Is one good for you?"

"Yeah," she agrees, and the realization sinks. In less than twenty-one hours – closer to twenty, actually – she will see Samuel. "Perfect."

"I'll text you the address of the restaurant, if you don't mind," he chimes in, almost amusedly as it sounds, because Carla has, in her consternation, truly forgotten that meetings generally need to have a when and where determined. "I mean, if you have a place in mind-"

"No, no, just text me and I'll be there," she dismisses rushingly, because he's the one going to college, not her, and she has all the time in the world to spare.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then," he repeats cautiously, as if he couldn't believe it either; as if in case he said it too loudly, the fragile balance they somehow managed to build would break. "Bye."

"Bye, Samuel," she says, and his name rolls of her tongue viscously, like it's covered in honey.

She gets the text with the adress of the café two minutes later, and first, she stares at it and then tries to respond, something along the lines of I'm excited or Can't wait to see you, but everything comes off too ardent and needy, so she gives up after a few typed-and-deleted tries. After all, she doesn't really know where they stand, still, even though him calling her has made it a little clearer. At least he doesn't hate her guts to the point where he would never want to see her again.

She calls Valerio though, who must be the one responsible for the incoming call, and she asks him the question that she already knows the answer to, that being: "Did you call Samuel to tell him that I was in Madrid and give him my phone number?"

She can hear her curly-haired business partner's characteristic grin on the other side of the phone, again. "So, he beat you to it, huh? Shit, that means I lost the bet. I really didn't expect that."

"Why?" she intriques, instead of asking who the other gambler in this bet was. She has her suspicion, and that is Rebeka, because she seems like the only person who would willingly hang out with Valerio enough to reach the point where they'd bet on their mutual acquaintances' unraveling love lives – or whatever, the speed at which they would catch up.

She hears that Valerio is smiling as widely as ever on the other side of the phone. "Because he's a pussy."





v.

If Samuel is nervous about seeing her, that is only good, because she sure as hell is an absolute wreck. She woke up at eight, tried on every piece of clothing she had brought with herself, then went on an impromptu shopping trip, because none of the clothes she already owns seemed good enough, and ended up not wearing her new ones anyway. It's completely ridiculous – Samuel, of at least the Samuel she knows, wouldn't care at all about her choice of clothing, and definitely not about the branding, and she spent an hour deciding between two purses. He probably won't even notice anything about her carefully constructed outfit.

She eats a few grapes, because the only thing that she's swallowed the whole day was a skim cappuccino from a to-go cup during her shopping trip, and she finds herself growing positively restless and twitchy with only the caffeine circulating in her system. The last thing she needs is to seem even more nervous than she already is.

She puts on a red lipstick that goes with the little flowers on her white, ruffled top, throws her denim jacket over herself – Carla can pull off double denim, she has powers like that, and the high waist of her dark-blue skinny jeans aligns perfectly with the hem of her slightly cropped jacket, creating just enough of a slit for a tiny show of skin if she lifts her shoulders up in the right way. Carla puts on her white sandals with the tiniest hint of a heel, because Samuel is not that tall – and realizes that her toenails aren't painted. She almost scoffs at herself – as if guys noticed that – and her last look in the mirror before she leaves for the lion's den assures her that she looks, certainly, good. Not too hot to seem like she's trying too much, but enough with the red lipstick, little hoops and her slightly curled hair, the beach-wave style she'd get in L.A. without having to bother with a curling iron.

Yet still, even the knowledge that she looks physically good can't really calm her down as she sits in the taxi that drives her towards the student part of town – the kind of hipster-posh, with flat prices too expensive for any middle-class student to actually afford, unless they have a friend who has a friend who has a friend who knows someone in real estate. Carla leans out of the window and breathes in the diffusing smell of weed everpresent in the neigbourhood's air, a testimony to the students' revels.

So what. Maybe it will calm her down a little.

She pays the taxi driver – even he notices how shaky she is, she drops a bunch of coins on the passenger seat – and stands in front of the restaurant slash café, wondering whether she should go inside or wait in front. She likes it, at first sight – it's the kind of modern tacky design, she sees different kinds of chairs and old coffee tables, and a wall lined by newspaper pages instead of wallpaper.

She treads on the spot for a second, then gazes over her shoulder to see if Samuel isn't, by a chance, there, and then she decides to go inside, because the café seems kind of full, and at least she can hold them a place.

Yet still, she can't help but give one last gaze to the street behind her, to make completely sure Samuel isn't about to arrive, and that doesn't pay off for her, because she isn't looking where she's going and instead of going through the open door, she crashes with a guy going in the opposite direction, who clearly wasn't paying much attention either.

She starts mumbling frantic apologies, and so does he, and then they both look up at the same time, and if Carla wasn't so flustered, she would laugh at what a cliché it is.

Because in front of her stands Samuel, his phone is laying dropped on the ground, and he's straing at her with his infamous Bambi eyes that make her want to drown in them.

"Hi," she says perplexedly, watching him pick up his phone from the ground awkwardly. "Is it broken?"

"No," he mutters, just as baffled as her. "Are you okay? I'm sorry, I was checking whether you'd, um, texted me or, I don't know, I was about to go look whether you weren't lost in the neighbourhood or something."

This is when Carla's laugh finally escapes her throat, a short and careful one, but still. "You really don't think much of me if you think I'm not capable of finding a café."

"No, it's just that you don't know it here," he reclaims quickly. "I don't-"

She lets out an amused chuckle inbetween her teeth – it is clear that Samuel is nervous, and he's much worse at hiding it than she is, with his almost-stutter, which adds a bit to her confidence. "So. This is your favourite place, I assume?"

"Yeah," he leads her inside, to one of the tables by the wall which he had held for the two of them by putting his jacket – denim, just like Carla's – on it, and he surprises her by pulling her chair back for her so that she can sit. It feels kind of inappropriate in the setting and very chivalrous, and she has to supress a giggle and hope that she isn't blushing as intensely as she feels.

Because this is the effect Samuel has on her now – after five years, the positions of power have clearly switched. He didn't come visit her, and Carla doesn't blame him, because she knows that he probably didn't have the money nor time to go on a fourteen-hour flight to Los Angeles, and her times in Europe have been sparse. But still; she feels as if she was the one who was putting more on the table, making it clear that she wants to see him, getting his contact the moment she saw one of their mutual friends. She feels so insecure about where he stands, because she knows that without Valerio, he wouldn't even have come to the thought of contacting her.

But, perhaps Samuel is in the same exact position. He is mumbling something about reasonable prices for food, but the restaurant not being too fancy, and that he hopes she doesn't mind.

Carla thinks that she wouldn't mind if she had to eat a bowl of dry leaves if it meant she'd get to see him – and after all, she's survived a bunch of culinary horrors, his macaroni, for example – but she doesn't say that, she just assures him that she likes the place.

Samuel's eyes widen with relief, and then he starts telling her about his favourite orders, but his voice mutes down as she informs him that she'll get the Poké bowl – she's found a lot of love for that Hawaiian meal during her time in L.A.

"So," he starts off, after their orders are placed and they've endured a few seconds of silence, only disrupted by the quiet taps of Carla's foot under the table and the resulting miniature rattles of it. "How have you been?"

And the whole thing feels so out of proportion again, because Carla and Samuel were never the kind of people to ask each other vague questions about their wellbeing; they were the kind of people to fuck while trying to either solve, or cover up a murder case.

And Carla, again, finds herself astonished at the endless list of possibilities they have now. "Good," she replies thoughtfully, playing with the straw of the passionfruit lemonade they'd brought her - she's going for an L.A. hipster vegan bistro vibe with her whole meal, unconsciously. "I graduated from business school last year. I heard you're finishing architecture."

"Yeah," Samuel exhales. "Just two months and I'll be done."

"So, you're doing well, too," she assumes, finding it so peculiar that as teenagers, they didn't have a problem ripping their clothes off of each other, but now, a simple conversation seems like an unconquerable quest. "I mean – any trouble at all?"

Their gazes meet over the table and Carla feels a light giggle coming up to the surface as she meets his, and she knows that she's screwed when his lip starts curling up, too. The next thing she knows, they're laughing like a pair of idiots scrunched over the table.

"This is so weird," he gets out inbetween his snorts. "I mean – you and I-"

"Yeah. We haven't really done this before," she knows exactly what he means, and she manages to calm down a little, listing in the simple paper brochure menu, even though they already ordered. "But maybe we could try to kind of – meet each other for the first time again, if you know what I mean."

She curses at herself internally for her overdramatic and in all aspects stupid sentence, but Samuel doesn't laugh at her. Instead, he extends his hand over the table to take in hers and squeeze it, forcing her to look into his eyes – and of course, the electricity is still there, even in the pure touch. "Yeah," his eyes mix with hers and create a wonderful colour palette, a beautiful mess. "I'd like that."





vi.

Carla meets him again for the first time at one of the bars a few streets away from his university. He had a late night atelier, because he really needed to finish a project, as stood in his text when Carla intriqued where he was.

She wanted to meet him for the first time as soon as possible, and so she put on a white, flowy, and kind of transparent skirt – it was a really calculating move – with a black top, and texted Samuel the address of the bar she'd googled. I hope that you'll be able to find it.

Samuel didn't respond to her text, just like she hadn't responded to his. But he found her standing alone by the bar in a short skirt and an off-shoulder top.

"I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but see how beautiful you are," he says when he approaches her, his eyes regaining a spark after six hours of mind-dulling descriptive geometry. "And I couldn't just admire you from afar."

Carla would tell him that that's definitely not an authentic way of hitting on someone when you meet them for the first time – unless they had been catapulted into the seventeenth century – but she's too busy giggling like a fucking child and then shaking her honey-blonde, still lightly-curled hair, off her shoulders.

"Can I know your name?" he continues in his little game, and Carla doesn't care that they're supposed to be meeting for the first time – she wants to kiss him, now and here. His eyes have tiny fragments of light in their overwhelming darkness, like pleiades, the same colour as her hair.

"Lucrecia," she says after a split second of thinking, and Samuel's eyebrows fly over the roof. She chuckles. "What, am I supposed to give my real name to a complete stranger?"

"Lucrecia," he trails off, and she knows what he's thinking, but she finds it quite reasonable to use a fake name that means at least something. "Will you come dance with me?"

Apparently, not even the fact that she's turned into her class-obsessed, snobby and condescending friend, is enough to put Samuel off from pursuing her. She admires him for his determination, though, because he actually calls her by the fake name, in a moment of intoxication – in her case, less by alcohol and more by his presence so close to her, touching her whole body, his hands on her waist and his hips moving along with hers in the rhythm of the dance music, overwhelmingly pulsing in her ears. Or maybe that's just her blood, too.

"Maybe," she hears herself whispering frenetically, and she defintely shouldn't be in this severe of a state after two cocktails, but she still is, and she knows that it's, once again, Samuel, the prime cause of her downfall, his breath on her neck and his hand on her butt now, "you can call me Lu."

She finds it amusing that her imitation of his high school enemy is what tips him over the edge, he grabs her by the hips to turn her around and kisses her like in a feverish dream.

If all of her first kisses with people felt like this, she'd never stay with the same person again; but of course, the thing about them is that it isn't the first time, not really, and he is Samuel and she is Carla and their being together somehow always did this, even though people couldn't seem to understand it - and neither did she, if she's supposed to be honest. But with his hands with a firm grip of her hips, pulling her close, and her hands going through his hair, frantically, like she wants to touch every single one of them, the only thing that their kiss could be described as is: explosive.

In the best way possible.

"You haven't told me your name," she whispers when they break away and pant, and she finds it a miracle that he heard her, in the crushing noise of the club.

"Guzmán," he says, and Carla kisses the smug smirk right off his face.

Maybe the two of them are not meant to take things slowly and suffer through vague conversations about vague problems; maybe they're meant to explode.

Together.

At least that's what she thinks when they fuck in the bathroom of the club, frenziedly and hungrily and hazardously. Her skirt is white, after all, and transparent. It won't hide any stains.

"Samuel." It doesn't roll off her tongue like honey anymore – it is pure fire, licking the inside of her mouth with its flames. The same fire that has lit up his eyes.

"Carla," he pants in return. Their little game of not knowing each other is over – they know each other too well, after all.

Too well to know that neither of them wants to pretend now, that they don't have to.





vii.

She moves into his apartment from her hotel room. They don't say if it is permanent, or just until she finds herself a place, because they don't have to. For now, the fact is that Carla is living with Samuel, and they work together over late night coffees, him on some disgustingly creamy archs of paper with ground plans that Carla doesn't get what's wrong with – but something always is – and her with a little furrow inbetween her brows, writing another polite-yet-firm e-mail to the senior partners, who think that they know much better than her how to run her company.

"We suck at meeting again," Samuel observes, when it's two at night and they're both finally in bed, Carla's honey-blonde hair tickling his neck. "If I met a girl at a bar and asked her move in with me three days later, she would probably spray pepper spray into my eyes."

"We were always a bit unconventional," Carla giggles lazily. "I kind of like that about us."

"About that," he trails off, his fingernails tracing a gentle path over Carla's extended arm. "Why did you ignore me the entirety of senior year? I mean, you forgave me, right?"

It came too out of the blue for her to prepare herself for it; although she knew the question would come, Samuel has seemed to be tiptoeing around it (and all the other big questions, really) for the week they've been together in Madrid, and she definitely wasn't going to open up the topic on her own. But now, with his idle touch of her butterfly, pristine, white skin, it seems so out of place to bring it up. She should've expected it though.

Samuel gets her to get her guard down without her even realizing it, and then he strikes. Him and his puppy dog eyes and genuine voice. 

But the fact is, she came for him to do exactly that. She'd never tell anyone about it - and definitely not him - but when she was asked about her happiest memory in a college game of truth-or-dare-turned-sappy due to the fact that three quarters of the players were very stoned (that was the reason they were playing a ninth grade game in the first place), she automatically answered, playing with her at-the-time-fling's hair: "Hanging out at his place, eating his disgusting pasta, with my boyfriend in high school."

At least she had the good sense to call him her boyfriend, because explaining the nature of their relationship to a bunch of high twenty-two-year-olds whose most illegal action probably laid in that joint being passed around would not be a good experience - but after she called him that, she seemed to sober up completely (okay, partially) and started whining about how she ruined everything by leaving.

You can guess how long her fling with that boy who was laying in her lap while she was saying it lasted after that.

But she realized - her courage somewhat spiked up by the weird mix of alcohol and weed - that if she ever wanted to feel true happiness, she needed to try. And surprisingly, when she woke up the next morning, her mind had stayed convinced. And despite her sabotaging attempts, it stayed that way for her last year of college.

She's back to let her guard down. She's scared, and hopeful, and - scratch scared, she's terrified, but also ready. Ready to be honest. Ready to open up, in hopes that it will make her-

Happy.

"My dad threatened to kill you." She says it bluntly, because she, after all, knew that the question would come eventually, and she wants to give him the answer – it's been weighing down on her chest for way too long, and her feelings are surprisingly in compliance with her new honesty policy. "And our wineries were on the verge of bankrupcy. He had me date Yeray so that he'd invest in them."

She really thought that she'd be able to say it without crying, because it is the past, after all, and Carla had found it quite easy not to think about it when she was in her final years of college and the immediate trauma had worn over; but she finds her cheeks salty. Maybe it is the city that she's in; maybe it is the boy that she's next to, that cause the memory to sting way more.

Samuel breathes out rapidly and Carla feels his whole body tremble in redundant anger, that kind that would make him go and smash somebody's face when he was in high school, but Samuel has grown, too. He doesn't start screaming, punching things or furiously pacing around the room, scheming a revenge plot.

He holds Carla in his arms and listens to her sobs.

"I love you," he tells her once she's stopped rattling, and she immediately melts in his arms, because it's just what she's dreamed of, and much more.

And she can finally respond, because there's no murders and no secrets and no parents and no bankrupting wineries and no ocean inbetween the two of them. There's no hesitance and no pressure for them to meet some stupid relationship norms, because they're not normal, they're them, and she wouldn't change it for anything in the whole world. So, she tastes every bittersweet syllable before she sets them free into the air.

"I love you too, Samuel."